By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
The winningest coach in Wawasee High School boys basketball history turned in his letter of resignation on Wednesday.
Phil Mishler has guided the Warriors since the 2000-01 season to a 168-126 record that includes three of the programs six sectional championships and the school’s only regional title.
“I really appreciate the opportunity Wawasee gave me,” Mishler said. “The journey with players in basketball, especially in the state of Indiana, is a special one. Building those relationships with the players is what it’s all about.”
The coach considers those relationships with players one of the most important aspects of the job.
“The thing I’m most proud of is when one of my former players comes to my house to sit down and talk with me,” he said.
Mishler plans to stay on as a teacher at Wawasee.
“I was a teacher here before they hired me to coach,” he said. “I’m very loyal to the school.”
Mishler took over a program that had struggled through five straight losing seasons. He went 5-16 and 8-13 his first two seasons before turning things around with six consecutive winning campaigns. The Warriors finished above .500 in eight of his 13 seasons, including a pair of 20-win seasons.
“Phil will go down in the history of Wawasee basketball as one of the best coaches ever,” Wawasee Athletic Director Steve Wiktorowski said. “His record is one that will be envied by any other coach in the area. He came in at a difficult time in our program and resurrected our program.
“Phil was dealt a tough hand the last couple of seasons with the injuries he had to deal with.”
Wawasee went 20-7 in the 2004-05 season and 20-5 in 2005-06 for the only 20-win seasons in school history.
The Warriors’ regional title came in the 2004-05 campaign. Wawasee defeated West Noble 69-51, Northridge 67-36 and Lakeland 59-53 to win the Class 3A sectional at NorthWood. The Warriors then topped Tippecanoe Valley 73-63 and Bellmont 73-64 to win the Blackford regional. The season ended with a 62-51 semistate loss to Plymouth. Among the key players for Wawasee were Michael Conrad, Austin Kaiser, Ryan Kauchak, Kory Lantz and Andrew Mock.
Mishler opened eyes on the local scene in the first game of the 2008-09 season when the Warriors dropped a 111-105 overtime decision to the Fairfield Falcons in the debut of Mishler’s high-powered offense that featured among other things shooting as many 3-pointers as possible. His philosophy was if the team hit a decent percentage from long range you could win games.
Mishler was the 10th coach in the Wawasee program since the initial season in 1968-69.
Vernon Zurcher was 28-36 in the first three seasons, followed by Tom Spear 26-17 in two, Bob Heady 29-34 in three, Jerry Lambert 24-21 in two, Mike Jones 28-35 in three, John Wysong 68-43 in five, Gary Goshert 124-91 in 10, Jerry Davis 14-50 in three and Robb Burger 6-15 in one.
“Right now this is what is best for the kids,” Mishler said about the resignation. “The kids need someone that can be with them for awhile. This is the best thing for them and for my family.”
Phil and his wife Susan (Setlack) have two daughters: Alexis age eight and Julie six. Susan was hired in May as principal at Wawasee Middle School.
“I didn’t have kids when my coaching career began and the fact I do now played a big role in the decision,” he said. “My kids will see a lot more of me now.”
According to Wiktorowski there is no time table for finding a successor to Mishler.
“This all came about pretty quickly,” Wiktorowski said. “We have administrators out of town so we have not had time to talk about things.”
Mishler played basketball from 1984-88 at Hiland High School in Berlin, Ohio, where he was on a team that made it to the Final Four in the state tournament.
He is a 1992 graduate of Goshen College and earned a Masters of Physical Education from Ball State in 1999.
His coaching career began as a freshman coach at Northridge High School for Tom Crews. He went on to become a volunteer assistant at Wawasee for Goshert and Davis from 1995-98 before serving as the Wawasee girls JV coach from 1998-2000 for Kem Zolman.
He has also been the head tennis coach at Wawasee.
“One year I was the boys head tennis coach in the fall, the boys head basketball coach in the winter and the girls head tennis coach in the spring,” Mishler said.
He doesn’t rule out the possibility of returning to the coaching ranks one day.
“Coaching is in my blood,” he said. “My father was an athletic director and I went to college to become a teacher and coach.”